Tuesday, October 25, 2011

“Do the dead leave the living in peace?”

Thought I was done with mummies, did you? Well you’re wrong! Vampires and Zombies are horribly overplayed and Werewolves are kind of close, so you know what monster I’ve decided to champion? The humble Mummy. So get ready world, as I force feed you mummies until you think you’re Ramesses the Great.

But why stop at mere mummies? How about GHOST Mummies! And with an added dose of FRENCH GHOST MUMMIES! Which is kind of the premise of 2001’s Belphégor - Le fantôme du Louvre (AKA Belphegor: The Phantom of the Louvre). Sadly, I don't think there's any way the movie can live up to the mental image of French Ghost Mummies I have in my mind now.

In 1935, a French archeologist found a strange mummy in Egypt that zaps him with some kind of energy. He seems unharmed by it, except for the nightmares and sleepwalking and ships the mummy back to Paris, but on the voyage, something drives him and the ship’s crew to madness and suicide.

Cut to the modern day as the mummy’s sarcophagus is found in a back room at the Louvre. This raises a lot of questions. Why was he lost in storage for so long? Why was his name scratched off of everything? Who is he? Why is he extra ugly? Who poisoned him and bashed him over the head to make sure he was good and dead?

After an MRI scan lets his ghost loose, the mummy starts shorting out the museum’s electrical grid, which is inconvenient as they’re doing some remodeling, which borders an apartment building where our protagonist lives. She gets possessed by the mummy’s ghost and starts blacking out at night and a mysterious robed figure stalks the Louvre, which leads to the deaths of several security guards on the night shift. Hmmm…

Lisa: Sophie Marceau is our main character. She runs a perfume shop (that gets seen once to establish that she runs a perfume shop and the lease is going up) and has a grandmother who raised her after her parents died. After the power in the city block starts fluctuating, she meets a young electrician and her grandma tries to hook the two up, then gran dies and Lisa goes a little “manic pixie dream girl” and sneaks into the Louvre at night (because the construction knocked a convenient hole in the wall of her apartment) and gets possessed by the ghost mummy and starts acting all neurotic and switching between normal and possessed modes.

Martin: Frédéric Diefenthal plays the amiable electrician who gets called in a couple times to fix the power in Lisa’s building. There’s attraction there, and he tries to cheer her up after grandma’s death, but after getting a little closer to her, she starts acting all weird and crazy and tossing him through the relationship wringer. He ends up being steadfast enough to see the movie through, but he sure falls for a girl with a lot of baggage. He also plays guitar in a band because of course he does.

Inspector Verlac: Michel Serrault plays a veteran security guard who used to work in the Louvre during the 60’s and encountered the being haunting the place back then. Now he returns, though the museum director is reluctant to bring him back in.

Glenda Spencer: Julie Christie plays an English archeologist called in to examine the mummy and is trying to figure out the corpse’s identity. Eventually she and Inspector Verlac get a nice flirty dynamic going.

Belphégor: Our mummy du jour is both a desiccated, dried out corpse incapable of locomotion (just like a real mummy) and a CGI glowing orange ghost without a lower body that can fly around and bare his skull for the audience. Its worth noting that for most of the movie, only the viewer can see the ghost and the characters cannot. “Belphégor” is not his real name (Belphegor is a name in demonology that also inspired an Austrian metal band of the same name) and the spirit is very upset that his name has been forgotten and wiped away. So upset that he’s possessed a woman, gotten her into a fancy robed costume and has her going around the Louvre at night grabbing artifacts for a ritual and terrifying the guards. There’s also a scene where Lisa and Martin are getting it on before Belphégor intervenes and starts choking Martin. That mummy is into some kinky stuff.

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé, the movie has two memorable visual things going for it. The first is the CGI ghost of the mummy which spends most of the movie invisible to anyone except the audience. There are times when Belphégor fights those who would stop it, and these induce hallucinations in the victim of whatever it is they fear the most (usually ending in a violent suicide). The effects during these scenes are kind of hit or miss, but they’re brief enough that it doesn’t matter much.

The second is the very, very nice cinematography that makes the Louvre look absolutely gorgeous. If nothing else, this movie serves as a fine bit of cinematographic publicity for one of the most famous museums in the world.

Based on the 1927 horror novel “Belphégor” by Arthur Bernède (which was quite a popular book in France; spawning a movie serial, a 60s TV show, comic strip and other stuff). From what I gather, the adaptation by Jean-Paul Salomé, Danièle Thompson, and Jérôme Tonnerre took liberties with the original in order to make it more supernatural. As it stands, the characters are somewhat archetypal, especially Lisa and Martin. The side characters fare a little better, with Verlac & Spencer as well as some of the security guards getting some nice moments here and there.

Original music by Bruno Coulais. Its quite good and a bit similar to his score for Coraline, in that it throws in a lot of exotic sounds and cues mixed with electronic beats for an otherworldly atmosphere. In this case, said atmosphere is Egyptian infused. I dig it.

In the end Belphégor - Le fantôme du Louvre is more of a straight-up urban fantasy tale than a horror movie, and its more of a ghost story than a mummy movie, but it is an interesting little curio all the same. I wouldn’t call it particularly great or enthralling, but the cinematography is actually very well done and tells its story competently enough. Not sure I’d watch it again, but the experience itself was painless.

Yes, its a German trailer for a French film.

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